Back in Canada when I used to need a couple of light bulbs, I would head to the supermarket full of good intentions. The plan was to invest in a few energy-efficient versions and be on my way to the ultimate goal: replacing all the incandescents in my home and shifting to an environmentally responsible lighting system.
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But those compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs are expensive little suckers and inevitably I would leave the store having stuck with the cheap energy guzzlers I knew.
Although I would still be able to buy the cheaper bulbs if I lived back in Canada, the days of doing so are numbered. Canada is one of a growing number of countries that have implemented measures to phase out their sale.
California already banned the sale of the strongest wattage - 100 - at the start of the year. The rest of the US is scheduled to get rid of 100-watt bulbs on January 1, with deadlines for lower wattages to take effect at the start of 2013 and 2014.
The EU has been phasing out the sale of incandescent bulbs for almost two years, with 60-watt bulbs - the most commonly used - to be off shelves by September, and 40-watt bulbs - the final version to be banned - from the start of next year.
Although the Government in the UAE has so far not taken any such steps, the country is due for a similar federal policy to phase out incandescent bulbs, says Tanzeed Alam, the director of policy for Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF).
A report released this month from the UN Environment Programme named the UAE the third biggest consumer of resources in the world behind Qatar and Australia. Residents here consume just under 40 tonnes of resources per year, compared to India, which uses four, and the average developed country, which uses 16.
According to Alam, an efficient use of energy is one of the easiest ways to reduce our footprint. He points out that the institutional capacity to phase out the bulbs already exists in the form of the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma), which recently introduced a new system that rates the efficiency of air conditioning units on a scale of one to five.
However, any attempt at phasing out incandescent bulbs would need to be backed by a comprehensive policy and framework to support it, he adds. The government also needs to work with suppliers to make sure enough of the replacement bulbs will be available and to educate the public so they know what they are purchasing and that the added expense pays off.
Although EWS-WWF does not endorse a particular brand, the society has distributed almost 100,000 CFL bulbs free to the public since the start of their Heroes of the UAE campaign launched in February 2009.
They have calculated that if all those bulbs were put into use, it would be the equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road.
"Not to mention the actual reduction in bills people would receive as a result of that," Alam says.
The love of the traditional light bulb runs deep, however, so despite the energy-efficiency argument detractors are digging in their heels. Last year in the US the Arizona governor vetoed a bill that would have exempted the state from the nationwide ban.
South Carolina has succeeded in passing the Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act, which allows the continued manufacture of the bulbs as long as they are sold within the state and labelled as having been made there. Canada has pushed back its deadlines for getting rid of the bulbs by two years, from 2012 to 2014.
The government said it wanted a better campaign to inform residents about the switch and to allow for technological innovations so consumers have better options. The delay was also implemented to allow time to examine health and toxicity concerns over CFLs, as well as provide for their safe disposal.
There are big "buts" being raised about the energy-efficient alternatives. The CFL bulbs do contain toxins, namely mercury, so there is concern about what they emit when on, how to dispose of them so they don't become hazardous waste, and over the safety of workers in the plants that produce them.
Some studies have shown that their bluish glow can too closely resemble daylight and disrupt the body's production of sleep-inducing melatonin. Various groups have also warned the light can exacerbate certain health problems, everything from skin conditions to bringing on migraines. But they remain the best alternative we have, at least until the more efficient but still expensive LED options, which sell for more than US$50 (Dh184) each, become cheaper and more widely available.
Sure CFLs are more expensive - and until we know more I think it's best not to cosy up to them - but they are still worth serious consideration.
At Lulu Hypermarket they are selling for Dh11.50, which is more than seven times the price of incandescents available for Dh1.50. But they save 80 per cent of the energy of incandescent bulbs and last far longer - up to eight years, depending on how you use them. They may not cast the exact same warm glow, but I have been pleased with the light from "cool daylight" and "ambient" versions on offer. They are definitely getting there.
Besides the environmental benefits, Alam points out people living in this part of the world have another reason to use the CFL alternatives.
"They don't emit as much heat as incandescents," he says. "It actually reduces your need for cooling."
Eco Tip: Turn out a light
According to the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, turning off a regular incandescent light bulb for one hour a day for an entire year is equivalent to taking 500 cars off the road. The carbon dioxide emissions saved from doing this is 1,000 tonnes. And if you can turn off one light for an hour, why not try to get by for an entire day each week? Pick and choose the lights you use at any given time, and make sure to turn all lights off if you are not in a room rather than mindlessly turning them all on.
Eco buy: True Grace candles
With fragrances inspired by scents from the English countryside - country walks, fresh-cut flowers and mown grass - these hand-poured, handmade candles are a unique natural blend of rapeseed wax and beeswax. The candles are free from paraffin, soy or palm oil, so they produce a "clean burn", and no carbon emissions.
The team behind True Grace is Arco, aka the husband and wife team Philippa Nolan and Roger Biles, who began their business making bespoke candles for the likes of Calvin Klein, Liberty, Molton Brown, Mulberry and Penhaligon's. They launched the True Grace brand in 2003. Continuing Arco's emphasis on premium quality, the candles also contain 10 per cent scent - one of the highest percentage contents on the market, which means they also deliver the most wonderful, natural perfume that emanates even when the candle is unlit. Only fresh-cut flowers could be a more natural way to scent your home.
Walled Garden candles, Dh69 each, The One.
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